Healing (in) the Urban Landscape

Memorial Parkade and Therapeutic Garden, Royal Jubilee Hospital, Saanich, British Columbia, Canada

Published in Sitelines Magazine Issue 2001, British Columbia Society of Landscape Architects

One would not normally expect a parking structure to provide a worthwhile landscape and community contribution. Many of these structures represent architecture at its most functional with an associated landscape treatment doing its best to mask the unmistakable purpose and bulk of the building. When the Capital Health Region determined the need for a multi-storey parking structure within the Royal Jubilee Hospital campus in Saanich, British Columbia, the pressing need to expand accommodation for cars was certainly the prime consideration.

Proposed parking structures often generate an adverse community reaction in residential neighbourhoods with opposition focussing on increased traffic flows, noise and loss of visual amenity. This project was no exception and the potential loss of an existing therapeutic walking loop and a remnant stand of Garry Oak trees (Quercus garryana)* fuelled an emotional response from the local community against destruction of trees and degradation of the neighbourhood by what was believed to be an intrusive concrete structure. Residents and staff in the adjacent residential care facility for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s were also concerned that vehicle noise and headlights might cause unpredictable behaviour and stress for the seniors. What the design team was able to demonstrate was that the site offered a unique opportunity to create an innovative, therapeutic and ecologically-restored landscape which comprehensively addressed the potentially negative impacts highlighted by the building’s critics.

Preliminary siting and layout options for the building were strongly influenced by the desire to preserve as many existing trees as possible and the ultimate solution minimised the building’s footprint and the number of trees removed. The building’s functional requirements included a Central Security Office serving the entire hospital campus. This element allowed the architect greater flexibility with expression of the south face of the building which fronted one of the hospital’s main entrance roads. Public meetings hosted by the project architects, gave the community the opportunity to actively participate in locating the parkade and thereby convinced all concerned that every effort had been made to achieve optimum siting.

The involvement of the project arborist was also vital to this stage of the process. He provided critical data on the condition of all trees potentially affected by the work that served to establish siting and construction parameters relative to the trees. It included baseline information on the health of the trees and informed prognosis on longevity and the extent of root zones for protection during construction.

Crucial to the landscape concept was the presence of the Garry Oaks. They were in decline as a result of past efforts at site “beautification” and being closely surrounded in many instances by asphalt-surfaced parking area or close-mown turf. Revitalising the growing environment for these trees was adopted early as a key design objective.

The landscape design response required a thorough investigation of native Garry Oak habitat. To combine habitat restoration with the creation of a therapeutic garden entailed a carefully considered blend of mainly native shrubs, perennials, bulbs and grasses which provide for a close approximation of typical Garry Oak ecosystem components. Tracking down potential sources for suitable native material was a task taken on by the landscape architect and the arborist prior to tenders being invited. The list of sources was then provided to bidders to minimize the inevitable requests for substitutions of the harder-to-obtain items, particularly in bulb or seed form.

A restoration specification was crafted including careful delineation of protected root zones and temporary construction access spanning protected root areas. Planting under existing Garry Oaks reflected the wish to revitalize their growing environment, minimize impact on surface roots and recreate an ecosystem closer to that found in nature. The final treatment included fine grass seed, wildflower and bulb seed, divot-planted bulbs and a mulch of composted oak leaves.

The predominantly low-level bulbs and grasses beneath the existing trees filter out into larger native shrub zones used to contain or subdivide the garden spaces or to provide a more substantial softening against the building. Although most of the plant palette is xerically tolerant, some irrigation has been installed to meet the establishment requirements of plants on an urban site where the natural hydrology has been disrupted and dry summers are the norm. Habitat restoration considerations were closely coupled with the desire to create an environment to enrich the experience of those using the garden.

Tree planting included Garry Oaks to replace the small number which had to be removed for construction. To mitigate the scale of the new building’s concrete shear walls, 9.0m high Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and 6.0m high Serbian Spruce (Picea omorika) were installed, giving immediate visual relief to the building mass.

The extent of existing Garry Oak root zones meant that new paths could not avoid some encroachment in those areas. Where possible, previous path alignments were used to minimize impacts. Where root zones could not be circumvented, paths were constructed on existing grades with appropriate reinforcement to avoid later settlement.

The selection of hard landscape materials also reflects the needs and limitations of the garden’s end users. A continuous walking loop is threaded around the entire garden between established trees with long or short route options offering opportunities for rest along the way at bench stops which include spaces for accommodating wheelchairs alongside regular seating. To assist those users with sight or orientation difficulties, the walking surface of broom-finished concrete provides clear route definition enhanced by upstand edges. Additional textural interest is brought in with rock walls behind rest stations, cedar benches and natural boulders placed strategically in order to complement the rich palette of plant material.

The curvilinear nature of the pathway system creates pockets of space available for other designated uses. The original garden provided portable planters used by hospital residents for gardening activity. New, permanent planters have now been incorporated which have been custom-fabricated to offer wheelchair users greater ease of access to planting. These gardening stations incorporate aluminium planting troughs and adjoining cedar work surfaces which can also be used as picnic table spots. The planters are directly linked to adjoining rockery features giving a sense of connection to the garden and enhancing the visual experience.

At the north end of the garden is a physiotherapy centre. Adjacent to this facility is located a grassed activity space with potential for use as an informal putting green or lawn bowling practice area. Sufficient hard surface has also been provided for larger group gatherings and events.

The lowest portion of the site afforded the opportunity to create a dry feature that simulates a water course. Safety and cost considerations precluded the use of water, but the feature enabled more variations in texture to be introduced with river rock, boulder edging, simulated causeway crossings and a more ornamental character to the planting.

The parkade opened in November 2000 and the development of its unusual landscape is an ongoing process, dependant in no small part on the special care and attention it receives during its early years. With this in mind, maintenance essentials have been reviewed with the owner’s grounds maintenance staff and itemised relative to the landscape plan components. Some of the more unusual seed applied may not flower for up to ten years after sowing!

The project’s success and approval from staff and neighbours for what has been achieved so far is testimony to the efforts of the multi-disciplinary team and the vision of the owner. The unique combination of parkade, ecological restoration and therapeutic garden serves as a valuable model for the happy co-existence of seemingly incompatible uses through a sensitive and flexible design approach.

*Garry Oak (Quercus garryana): Ecosystems dominated by Garry Oak are restricted in British Columbia to the south east coast of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. They are considered endangered and greatly at risk of loss from B.C. Garry Oak woodlands support the highest species diversity of any terrestrial ecosystem in B.C. The British Columbia Conservation Data Centre (CDC) rates the ecosystem and many of the plants and animals it supports as “critically imperilled”. For example, 20% of rare plants in the province live only in the Garry Oak ecosystem.

Project Credits

Owner: Capital Health Region

Project Management: Cochrane Engineering Ltd.

Architect: PBK Architects Inc.

Landscape Architect: PD Group Landscape Architecture & Interior Design Ltd.

Arborist: Arbour-Care Tree Conservation Services Ltd.

Parkade Operations: Parking Development Group

Engineering: Cochrane Engineering Ltd. (Struct., Mech. & Elec.)

Graeme & Murray Engineering Consultants Ltd. (Civil)

Data & Security: R A Duff & Associates

General Contractor: Farmer Construction Ltd.

Landscape Subcontractor: Chris Design Landscaping Ltd.